Mission: Possible 

Your marching orders from the Independent’s publisher

I dreamed a few nights ago that I was trying to get access to the back issues of the Missoula Independent, which were being stored at the U.S military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The dream was almost certainly triggered by my work during the preceding days to cull some good stories from 1993 for display at our 10th anniversary party. I’d been skimming through the papers from that year, getting reacquainted with the Independent’s history. I discovered that Independent was a good newspaper, even when it was first getting started. A strong commitment to aggressive coverage of local news was very apparent, and the paper was well-constructed. It looked good and included most of the editorial components that you see today, in one form or another.

I don’t know why those old papers ended up under military guard at some remote outpost in the recesses of my mind. It was like they had been exiled to some kind of intellectual gulag, and I was there to liberate them. There was a vague sense of danger about the whole mission: Fidel Castro appeared in a black windbreaker, and was clearly a threat to be feared and avoided, because he’s a creep.

In the real world, it has, in fact, been my mission for the last three and a half years to rescue the Independent from peril and introduce it to a larger audience, to enhance the paper’s standing within the community, and to solidify its position as a vital source of local news and local culture. This week, as we formally celebrate the paper’s 10th anniversary, that mission has expanded to encompass a renewed appreciation for the contributions the paper has made to Missoula during its 10-year history.

Over the years, the Independent has always reflected what I believe to be some of Missoula’s finest qualities as a community. The paper has always embodied the social idealism that fuels public life here; a suspicion of conformity that encourages innovation and progress; the ambition and intensity that corresponds with real leadership; and characteristic intelligence and humor that helps make our lives interesting and fun. It’s been lively, provocative and consistently free-spirited in a way that continually affirms the vitality of our readers and the community they’re building in western Montana.

Sometimes, those same qualities work against us. The keen sense of justice that the paper has always encouraged has occasionally pitted it against deeply entrenched special interests who characterize us as sanctimonious ideologues. Progress is not always welcomed by all. And the provocative nature of some of our reporting can be perceived as excessively irreverent, or even offensive. We’re much more inclined to publish a sarcastic zinger than any other local media, and if you’re the target of one of our barbs, you’re likely to complain that we’re dangerously unrestrained.

But that’s the nature of public discourse. It’s suffused with conflict and contentiousness, colored by anger and moral outrage, driven by the personal visions of forceful leaders like Missoula City Councilmember Jim McGrath and County Commissioner Barbara Evans, and inflamed by outspoken cranks like would-be tax reformer Rob Natelson and local gadfly Ross Best. It’s our public life, as we really live it, with spirit and emotion.

And that’s the enduring strength of the Independent: its unflinching approach to documenting the full scope of our lives here in western Montana—from embarrassingly narrow-minded elected officials to avant-garde artists; from hard-working cattle ranchers to flamboyant homosexuals, from crime and punishment to carefree diversion—we shine it all right back at you, in all its glory and imperfection, week after week, for 10 years running.

Throughout its history, the Independent has been remarkably consistent in its efforts to report the most interesting and important aspects of life in western Montana in the most compelling ways imaginable. If we the people of Missoula had to get all of our information about our neighbors through the mainstream media, we’d think folks were a lot simpler than they really are. Judged on that basis, the Independent has succeeded at more than merely informing us. By enhancing our understanding of the richness and diversity of life here, it has helped create more thoughtful citizens who are better able to meet the demands of the complex social challenges we must overcome to thrive as a community.

That’s a legacy the paper’s founders and its staff past and present should be proud to have created, and a legacy that I’m proud to maintain.

On this occasion of the Independent’s 10th anniversary, it is fitting for all of us who have been involved with its publication, all of us whose lives it has touched, and all of us who have been inspired by the paper’s achievements, to remember the Independent’s history, to note its successes, and to appreciate the incalculable contribution it has made to Missoula life over the years.

More importantly, we should renew our commitment to come back next week, and for every week after that, for as long as the news lasts. So to people of Missoula, to the Marines at Guantanamo Bay, and to the imaginary guardians of the Independent’s past who haunt my dreams, I say semper fi. Steve Glueckert Curator, Art Museum of Missoula
Q: What do you think of the Missoula Independent, and how do you use it? Follow-up: How would Missoula be different without an alternative newsweekly like the Missoula Independent? For 10 years, the Independent’s been an additional voice in the community that I’ve been grateful for, and that keeps the environment of Missoula’s culture stimulated. I think that the more that can be written about art, environment and culture, the better our community and its people can pay attention to personal growth. Cultural growth hormone: The more dialogue the better, because dialogue stimulates cultural activity, and in turn, keeps the process going. If you live in a place where there just one opinion, the potential to stop growing is very much a reality. —Nick Domitrovich Mike McInally Editor, Missoulian
Q: What do you think of the Missoula Independent, and how do you use it? Follow-up: How would Missoula be different without an alternative newsweekly like the Missoula Independent?
Well, I think that the more papers the better. The more voices and diversity in the community, the better off we all are. Congratulations on your anniversary. In our own little niche: I think that this is a community where if it hadn’t been the Independent that filled the niche, something else would have popped up and done it. —Nick Domitrovich George Dennison President, University of Montana
Q: What do you think of the Missoula Independent, and how do you use it? Follow-up: How would Missoula be different without an alternative newsweekly like the Missoula Independent?
I think that the Independent provides another source, albeit not as frequent as the daily, but a good source for alternative coverage. I’ve found the Independent useful for a number of topics. A community-wide flash of insight: I think what’s important is that Missoula’s community is such that it would invent it if we didn’t have it. That’s not to say that the Independent and its people aren’t important, but people would realize that this is an important part of our community and do something about it. —Nick Domitrovich

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